Yesterday afternoon found me sitting in a window seat at the North End’s Caffé Graffiti, enjoying a Campari and soda after a day of wandering about in the sultry heat. I was casually reading my book on Buddhism in America, but mostly I just stared out the window at the people walking by. My “artist” friend was out on the street, and he stared at me like he knew me for a bit before he rode off on his bicycle. Oh well. He wouldn’t have approved of my choice of reading material anyway.
Although I had dressed for the weather in a tank top and loose skirt, the muggy afternoon did its sweaty work. My skirt clung to my legs. Other caffé patrons fanned themselves, and people walked around outside dazed by the sun stupids. Ah, I thought, sipping my drink, Summer.
Summer comes to me in moments, moments where my present fuses with all of those Summer moments of the past. It’s a lazy and shocking realization, if that makes sense.
My most powerful Summer moment, and the one that I was suddenly in, happened in time six or seven years ago while swimming in a lake in New Hampshire.
After a night out at a Portsmouth bar, listening to a band and dancing, my friends and I had driven out in my best friend’s convertible to friends’ place—an old summer camp transformed into a sort-of commune—to go skinny dipping at the lake. We often wound up there on hot summer nights.
Among the usual group, we had a guy with us, a guy my best friend had a crush on. He’d asked me to dance with him at the bar, and I had, thinking that he would dance with all the women. He hadn’t; I think I was the only one he’d asked. Although he was originally from the area, he lived in Chile most of the year, leading mountaineering groups in the Andes. This exotic adventurous spirit combined with his intense brown eyes made us all a little bit in love with him, but friendship is friendship, and my friend had met him first. The rest of us just joked with him in the car and smiled knowingly at our friend.
Heart’s Dreamboat Annie blared in her car stereo, and we sang along badly at the top of our lungs into the hot late-July night on the half-hour drive out to the lake. Upon arrival, we piled out of the car and tromped loudly down to the beach where we proceeded to strip. Most of us did this matter-of-factly (skinny dipping was nothing in this group), but my best friend had been a little shy, and that was when I remembered the guy with us. I mischievously wondered if something would happen with him and my friend.
Laughing, we all ran and dove into the water. That summer had been hot, and, even at night, the lake was just barely cooler than the air. I dove under the water and came up to see a fire cracker explode in the moonlit sky from a camp across the lake. Grinning, I swam out toward the middle of the small lake as another one went off. About fifty yards from shore, I stopped swimming and turned on my back, looking out toward the opposite shore and letting my feet rise above the surface. I could hear my friends, splashing and laughing near the beach, but around me, everything was still.
I heard someone coming, and I turned around to see the guy. I stayed where I was, treading water. He swam toward me until he was a foot or so away and stopped. “Hi,” he said.
“Hey,” I answered. He was staring at me, smiling.
I stared back.
We stayed like that, treading water and staring at each other, and in that moment, it was Summer. We had always been like that, swimming close together and naked on a hot summer night, and we always would be. Neither of us spoke and we made no move to touch each other. We just smiled and stared at each other, both of us experiencing Summer.
My best friend called out, trying to locate everyone. I remembered her crush, and looking away from the guy, I started swimming toward shore.
I didn’t see him again that summer or the next one when he was home. Later on, I heard that he’d moved back to the States and had gotten married. And now he’s dead. He’d been living out West and had hurdled to the Earth in a hang-gliding accident. My friend e-mailed me to tell me the news. She’d asked me if I remembered him, that guy she’d had a little thing for a few years back. I replied that yes, I remembered him. I didn’t tell her that part of me is sharing Summer with him, swimming naked in a lake on a hot July night.
Just as quickly as I was in that moment, Summer passed. A marching band started playing on the next block, and a crowd of people carrying at statue of the Virgin Mary stopped by each restaurant and caffé, demanding money. People clapped, showered the Madonna with cash, and had a fine old time. Just as they passed Caffé Graffiti, the wind picked up and the sky darkened. In another instant, rain began to fall. I finished my drink and walked out into the street, breathing in the metallic rain.